Originally known as Vallis Florinda ('flowering valley'), Cleeve was founded as a Cistercian abbey in 1158.
Cleeve was never one of the grander Cistercian houses, reaching a peak of 28 monks in 1297. Despite a late period of prosperity leading up to the dissolution, it was still home to only 12 monks by the time it was surrendered to the crown in 1536.
Many of the abbey buildings survived as part of a manor house until the 17th century, by which time the estate had turned into a farm. In 1870, the site was acquired by the Luttrell estate of Dunster castle and turned into an early tourist attraction. It eventually passed back to the nation in 1949.
Although the ruins are only modest, there's still a number of features that make it worth a visit. Whilst nothing remains standing from the main church, some of the other buildings are in excellent condition. Of particular note is the refectory, with a mediaeval roof that can still be appreciated in all it's glory. Also worth a mention are the 15th century wall paintings and a section of unearthed thirteenth century floor tiles.
And of course there's the atmosphere. The abbey's slightly off the beaten track, and in common with many other Cistercian houses, you can't help but admire the monks' choice of location. It's easy to understate the magic of Cleeve abbey, since there's little here on a grand scale. Nevertheless, there still remains a sense of peace and serenity that belies the abbey's unpretentious demeanour.